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Making Your Case for Telecommuting:
How to Convince the Boss
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
It's a rare worker who has not -- at one point or another during his or her career -- thought it would be great to work from home instead of commuting to work. Perhaps your personal life is feeling out of balance with your work life. Perhaps you have a new baby. Maybe you have an elderly parent to care for. Or perhaps you're just sick of the grind. Certainly since the 9-11-2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S., many workers have sought the perceived safety of home as a workplace.
For many, telecommuting is seen as the answer to the desire to work from home. The term "telecommuting" is used interchangeably with the more recent term "teleworking," which some experts suggest you use when proposing an off-site arrangement to your boss -- since "telework" sounds more like working.
According to the American Interactive Consumer Survey conducted by The Dieringer Research Group for the International Telework Association and Council (ITAC), the number of employed Americans who performed any kind of work from home, with a frequency range from as little as 1 day a year to full-time, grew from 41.3 million in 2003 to 44.4 million in 2004, a 7.5% growth rate. The number of full-time telecommuters last year was 12 million, up from about 8.8 million in 2003. The number of telecommuters is increasing worldwide. Canadian telecommuters, for example, can recoup up to six full work weeks yearly -- an average hour a day -- by eliminating their daily commute, according to Bernard Brodie, an InnoVisions Canada consultant.
If you're seriously thinking you'd like a job where you can telecommute, a few reality checks are in order first:
- It's extremely rare to find a job that starts out as a telecommuting job. It's much more common to convert an existing job into a telecommuting arrangement by presenting a thoughtful and comprehensive proposal to your supervisor.
- Most telecommuters don't telecommute full-time, instead working from home two or three days a week. Two days per week is the national average among teleworkers, according to the International Telework Association.
The first thing to do is investigate whether your employer already has a telecommuting program in place. Chances are you'd know about it if such a program exists, but maybe it's a well-kept secret. Ask your human-resources department if the organization has such a program.
If your employer has no program, start doing some research. Read the organization's employee manual carefully to determine whether any company policies prohibit telecommuting. Try to get an idea what the employer's attitude might be toward allowing you to telecommute. If the company offers flex-time or other flexible work options, the organization may also be open to telecommuting. On her Web site WorkOptions.com, Pat Katepoo offers some good tips on signals to look for in your current workplace that suggest how receptive your employer may be to telecommuting. You may also want to ask yourself if a flexible work arrangement would likely hurt your "promotability" within the organization and whether you are willing to live with that reality.
Find out if competitor companies allow telecommuting and if other employers in your organization's geographic region permit the practice. You may want to compile articles about the benefits of teleworking. Check out the free article downloads at Gil Gordon's Telecommuting Web site. Arm yourself with as much information as possible.
Also be sure you are a good candidate for telecommuting. In your heart of hearts, are you convinced that you have the self-discipline to work from home under minimal supervision? And perhaps more importantly, does your boss perceive you as the kind of self-starter who can perform independently? Are you a proven performer? Well organized? A good time-manager? Think about yourself the same way you would if you were looking for a new job; what is your Unique Selling Proposition? In what ways are you an asset to your employer, and what do you do better than anyone else in your organization? If you can effectively communicate your value to your employer, you'll be better able to sell your boss on the idea of letting you telework. For a good set of questions to ask yourself to evaluate your candidacy for telecommuting, see Telecommute Connecticut's Could You Telecommute? and Judy Wolf's Is Telework for You?
Consider also whether your job functions lend themselves to telecommuting. You can find lists of the occupations that are the best candidates for telecommuting at the Web sites for Work-at-Home Success and the Metropolitan Atlanta Telecommuting Advisory Council.
Once you are comfortable that telecommuting is right for you, and you are fully informed, use the following guidelines and strategies to craft an effective telecommuting proposal:
- Plan to hit your boss with a double-whammy: A written proposal and an oral presentation. Experts agree that both a comprehensive, balanced written proposal and a presentation are the best approach. The presentation prepares your boss to absorb the points in the written proposal and gives him or her the opportunity to raise questions or objections (to which you'll be fully prepared to respond). The written proposal enables the boss to more carefully consider your ideas when he or she has more time and serves an a crucial tool if your boss agrees with your idea but must obtain approval from higher up in the food chain. You may want to rehearse the presentation and even role-play with a friend or co-worker so you can practice responding to the questions and objections you anticipate from your boss.
- Ask not what telecommuting can do for you; explain what telecommuting can do for your employer. Follow the same principle you would for any aspect of job-hunting from resumes and cover letters to interviews and salary negotiation -- focus on the benefits of telecommuting to the employer, not the benefits to you. Never frame your proposal in terms of how telecommuting will meet your needs. Don't mention your need for better work-life balance, more time to spend with your kids, care-taking responsibilities for elderly parents, or any other personal need. State only that telecommuting will make you more productive and efficient, be a better use of the time you previously spent on the road, make your boss's life easier -- whatever benefits you come up with that focus on the employer's needs -- not yours.
- Tout your value to the company and the traits that will make you an effective teleworker. Note your accomplishments and contributions. Describe yourself as someone who has the characteristics of a successful telecommuter, and wherever possible, cite supporting evidence of these characteristics, such as in performance evaluations.
- Propose a trial period. The most successful telecommuting proposals are those that offer an easy out for your boss. It's hard to refuse an offer to simply try it. If telecommuting doesn't work for you or your boss, the experiment will be over after a trial period. Of course, if telecommuting is truly important to you, you'll do your darndest to make it work. Both you and your boss may want to propose an "out" clause that would enable either of you to end or adjust the telecommuting experiment before the end of the trial period if it simply isn't working out. Summer or whatever season is your organization's slow period may be a good time for a trial. On the other hand, the best time may be when the company is fully staffed and few workers are taking vacations.
- Build in accountability measures. Your boss's biggest fear is likely that you will be unproductive if he or she is not there to watch over you. Suggest ways for your boss to keep tabs on you and be fully informed of your progress. Offer to fax or e-mail your boss a report of your activities for each day or week of at-home work. Suggest frequent evaluation meetings at various stages of the trial period. Establish a list of measurable goals against which to determine the success of the trial. The Web site MommyCo.com suggests a product such as Norton PCAnywhere that enables you to take over the use of an office computer via modem so that anyone back in the office can monitor your activities at all times.
- By outlining your job description, assure your boss that you'll meet your responsibilities. Chances are, telecommuting will not change your basic job responsibilities. But it's a good idea to delineate your job description to assure your boss that you know what needs to be done and that telecommuting won't significantly change that. You may want to construct a table that shows which of your job activities will be accomplished off-site, which will be performed in the traditional workplace, and which can be done at either location. Describe how you will handle key relationships with other team members.
- Propose a schedule. It's best to propose that you telework for only one or two days a week to start with. Pat Katepoo, who bills herself as The Flex Success Coach, suggests that Mondays should not be one of the days you propose for teleworking. But whatever you propose, be clear in your documentation to the boss what schedule you plan. You'll probably want to pledge to be in the office for all staff/team meetings. You may want to provide a projected schedule of what each day's work from home will be like.
- Be sure your boss knows you're reachable and flexible. Provide your boss with your phone, fax, pager, cell-phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Instant-messaging is a great tool for real-time communication with the office. Establish a frequency for checking in -- once a day or more, depending on your job functions and employer's needs. Pledge to return phone calls within a given period of time. Tell how you'll handle deadlines. Assure your boss you can come into the office on relatively short notice if you are urgently needed. The Metropolitan Atlanta Telecommuting Advisory Council advises that you pledge to always carry a folder of remote-work projects for anytime you have to telework unexpectedly (such as in case of a weather or sick-child emergency).
- Describe your workspace. Paint a picture for your boss of a safe, professional, and well-equipped workspace that is free of distractions. Draw a diagram, or better yet, provide a photo of your workspace. Invite your boss to visit your home office, and even propose a schedule of site visits.
- Address personal issues. Although you should never frame your proposal in terms of your personal needs, you must address how you plan to deal with those needs, especially if your boss is aware of your personal situation. First, don't delude yourself into thinking you can care for very young children while also working for your employer in your home. Even if your ulterior motive for telecommuting is more time with your kids, you will need some kind of childcare arrangement while you're working at home. Whether you've planned in-home childcare or a daycare facility, your boss needs to know that your children's needs won't distract you from work. Elderly parents may also need some sort of daycare arrangement.
- Talk about equipment. Your proposal should address what equipment you need to telecommute effectively, which equipment the employer will provide, what equipment you will provide, what costs the employer will incur, and how data-security, insurance, and liability issues will be handled should your computer be hacked or equipment be stolen or damaged. Typical telecommuting equipment includes a fax machine, additional phone line with voicemail, storage media such as Zip disks/drives or CD-ROMs to back up and transport computer files, and a computer with Internet access, preferably broadband rather than dialup.
- Deploy statistics and case studies that support the business benefits of telecommuting. Numerous studies support the notion that telecommuting workers are more productive and have higher morale and less absenteeism. Organizations that allow telecommuting have less employee turnover. Provide examples of other companies in your area, especially competitors, that allow teleworking. List co-workers willing to support the venture. You may want to include supporting articles as an appendix to your proposal. Some good sources for supporting statistics include:
- You may even want to provide a cost-benefits analysis.
These sites tell how to put together such an analysis:
- Crunch the numbers... from June Langhoff's Telecommuting Resource Center.
- Cost-benefits from the Canadian Telework Association.
- If you need help getting started, use a sample telecommuting
proposal or proposal template. Several sites offer fill-in-the
blanks proposal templates:
- Judy Wolf (PDF; Adobe Acrobat Reader required)
- About.com Sample Agreements.
- For $29.95, you can purchase the product Telecommuting Flex Success Proposal Blueprint from Pat Katepoo of WorkOptions.com. In addition to a telecommuting proposal template, the product offers strategies for handling objections, developing "Plan B," and addressing equipment and dependent-care issues. See a brief review of the publication.
- Be prepared for every question and objection. If the boss
feels your work habits and performance don't qualify you for
telecommuting, ask what you can do to prove you're up to the task.
The proposed telecommuting trial period might persuade the boss to
take a chance on you. Other common objections include:
- If you do it, everyone will want to.
- We don't telework here.
- You can't telecommute; you're a manager.
- You can't telecommute; you interact extensively with customers.
- If you're turned down, don't give up, but try a different approach. For example, volunteer to finish up a project at home over a weekend to show how efficiently you work from that venue. Or negotiate fewer days a week of telecommuting or a shorter trial period. If rejection of your telecommuting proposal is a matter of company policy, find out how much sentiment there is among your co-workers for getting the policy changed. If you hit a brick wall, consider seeking a job at a company that may be more receptive to a telecommuting proposal.
- If your telecommuting trial succeeds, consider spreading the wealth. Write up a case study of your successful telecommuting experience and then propose a program for your company or department. Check out this "how-to" guide from the Metropolitan Atlanta Telecommuting Advisory Council.
- Check out additional resources for convincing the boss and on telecommuting in general:
- Strategies for approval, negotiating tips, and practical advice
- Judy Wolf's Resources: Telework & Telecommuting
- Canadian Telework Association
- International Telework Association and Council (ITAC); see especially the site's Reference Library
- June Langhoff's Telecommuting Resource Center
- Telecommute Connecticut
- About.com Telecommuting
- Telecommuting, Telework and Alternate Officing
- Phil Montero's YouCanWorkFromAnywhere.com
- ALLearnatives Telecommuting Resource Center
- Work-at-Home Success: Telecommuting
- Metro Atlanta Telecommuting Advisory Council
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com.
And don't forget to take advantage of all of all our telecommuting and work-at-home resources.
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